Ethnoecology and Archaeology

Our large team of Northwest Coast archaeologists led by Iain McKechnie (Simon Fraser University, University of Oregon, Hakai Network for Coastal People, Ecosystems and Management), Dana Lepofsky (Simon Fraser University), and Madonna Moss (University of Oregon) completed a coast-wide review of the abundance of herring bones in archaeological sites that date from 10,700 years ago. This provides a much needed long-term perspective on herring abundance and distribution as baselines for management decisions.

Our archaeological results suggest that herring distribution and abundance have dramatically declined in recent years, likely as a result of over 100 years of historical commercial fishing. Specifically, we found that:

  1. At the majority of archaeological sites on the coast, the remains of herring  dominate the archaeological record of fish bones. 
  2. Archaeological sites in the south (Salish Sea, West Coast Vancouver Island) are overwhelmingly dominated by herring. Northward through the Central Coast to Alaska, the number of sites dominated by herring bones declines, but herring is still abundant at most sites.
  3. Herring bones have been consistently abundant within archaeological sites through time.  While herring numbers may have fluctuated, the archaeological evidence suggests numbers never dipped enough that people could not meet their subsistence and economic needs.  This contrasts dramatically with the recent historical record.
  4. Locations described in First Nations oral traditions, by indigenous place names, and in early historical documents as has having abundant herring, also have abundant herring bones in the archaeological record.  Some of those places have little to no herring in associated waters today.

The abundance (and absence) of archaeological herring bones matches well with historically-known spawning grounds, but there are places that are not recorded as historic spawning grounds that have abundant archaeological herring bones.

Thursday, January 23, 2014